Strongest typhoon of the year slams into Philippines, casualties feared

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MANILA, Philippines -- One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines today, cutting communications and blocking roads in the nation's center amid worries of serious damage and casualties.

Telephone lines appeared to be down, as it was difficult to get through to the landfall site, 405 miles southeast of Manila, where Typhoon Haiyan slammed into a rural area of the country.

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds at 147 miles per hour, with gusts of 170 mph, when it made landfall at Eastern Samar province's Guiuan township. The local weather bureau makes estimates based on longer periods of time than others, such as the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which said shortly before the typhoon made landfall that its maximum sustained winds were 195 mph, with gusts up to 235 mph.

Former hurricane meteorologist Jeff Masters, now meteorology director at the private firm Weather Underground, said, "195-mile-per-hour winds -- there aren't too many buildings constructed that can withstand that kind of wind." He said the storm had been poised to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at landfall, and warned of "catastrophic damage."

Haiyan's wind strength at landfall had been expected to beat out Hurricane Camille in 1969, which had winds of 190 mph at its U.S. landfall, Mr. Masters said.

President Benigno Aquino III assured the public that there have been war-like preparations, with three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.

More than 125,000 people had been evacuated from towns and villages in the typhoon's path, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. Among them were thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake devastated many towns on the island province.

The typhoon -- the 24th serious storm to hit the Philippines this year -- is forecast to barrel through its central region today and Saturday before blowing toward the South China Sea over the weekend, heading toward Vietnam.

Already, Philippines authorities were reporting trouble reaching colleagues in the landfall area, with national weather bureau forecaster Mario Palafox saying contact had been lost with bureau staff there.

Mr. Masters said the Philippines might get a small break because the storm is so fast-moving that flooding from rains -- usually the cause of most deaths from typhoons in the Philippines -- may not be as bad.

After hitting Guiuan on the southern tip of Samar island, the typhoon pummeled nearby Leyte island. "I think this is the strongest so far since the 1960s," Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said on ABS-CBN television. "This is really a wallop. All roads are impassable due to fallen trees."

A network reporter in the city of Tacloban was drenched by pounding rain and said he was wearing a helmet to protect against flying debris. Visibility was so poor that only his silhouette was visible amid a thick curtain of water. Television images showed a street under knee-deep floodwater carrying debris blown down by fierce winds. Tin roofing sheets ripped from buildings flew above the street.

Weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said the typhoon was not losing much strength because there is no large land mass to slow it, since the region is comprised of islands with no tall mountains.

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